Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/516

This page has been validated.

lends itself in rhyme with picturesque and grotesque, and both these adjectives fit him closely as the unique character of American botanical history. So ardent was he in his desire for new descriptions, that when there were no further plants within his reach, he took flight to the clouds and deliberately classified the form of thunder and lightning. He published voluminously and so miscellaneously that some of his papers are still coming to light. Much of his work is worthless, yet there are veins of good interlarded among the bad that it still remains the task of the future to sift and save. In his crazy notions regarding the multiplicity of species, Rafinesque has had no equals, a few weakling imitators, and only one real successor.

While the study of the higher plants was in progress at various places, there were fortunately only a few to study the lower ones. Schweinitz, a Moravian minister, commenced the study of American fungi first in North Carolina and afterwards at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He was followed in his study in the south by another clergyman, Moses A. Curtis, who attended to the spiritual needs of his parish on Sunday, and on Monday started out in his old gig for mushrooms. Curtis sent most of his material to Berkeley in England for description, so that the types are at Kew. Later two thirds of all our new fungi were described by Ellis, whose enormous collection is now in the New York Botanical Garden, and by the veteran state botanist of New York, Charles H. Peck, who alone represents the old school of mycologists. The lichens were early studied by Tuckerman, whose collection is at Cambridge, and the mosses by Sullivant and Lesquereux and later by Austin. Harvey early studied our algae, and he was succeeded by Farlow in New England and by Anderson on the Pacific Coast.

Few students of the present generation are able to understand the conditions that were the rule in the past. A generation ago, instead of well-equipped laboratories of botany, the college boy was fortunate if he could have either botany or zoology as an undergraduate elective at all, and, of course, resident graduate work was practically unknown; if botany was given at all, it was only as a two-hour subject for a short term when the common spring flowers were attainable, for botany then was literally a study of flowers. The whole course of instruction fostered by the text-books of Gray and Wood led only to a dilettante sort of study which in most colleges was taken to fill in a snap elective for an easy time at the close of the senior year. No one thought seriously of botany; it was a sort of fringe on the educational garment, pretty enough, but only adapted to girls to be taken as an accomplishment and classed with decorative daubery and other fancy work. There were only three colleges in the entire country where there was a distinctive professor of botany, and at the best of them there was not